By Kary Booher (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
The hope from their coach is that they one of the area’s feel-good, bounce-back stories – rising from nowhere to being seen as competitive.
After all, the positive of last year’s 1-22 baseball season was that the Buffalo High School Bison had young guys gain experience.
“Last season was a rebuilding year for us,” Buffalo coach Jeff Elsenraat said. “Our motivation this year is our experience. We started seven guys that had little or no varsity experience and now we have all those guys back and they all have varsity experience and are wanting to get better and prove they are better than what we showed last season.”
The Bison have 18 on the roster, and among them is left-handed sophomore Jaren Smith, who was a second team all-conference last year. He’ll be Buffalo’s Mr. Do Everything. He struck out 27 and had a 3.74 earned run average last year.
“Jaren will be our ace on the mound and, when he is not pitching, he will be playing center field,” Elsenraat said. “He will also be our anchor on defense and most likely our leadoff hitter.”
The pitching staff also includes junior Trey Cruse and right-handed sophomores Blake Louderbaugh, Cameron Portis, Jimmy Jenkins and freshman Cole Potter.
“Blake is a relative newcomer to the varsity team but did see a few starts on the mound and in the outfield last season,” Elsenraat said. “He will play a bigger role this year as he will see many more innings.”
Look for Cruse more in a swing role, while Portis could expand from being a reliever last year into taking on starting assignments. Jenkins and Potter could be spot starters and relievers.
They’ll be pitching to Tyler Owens, now a sophomore.
“Tyler was put in a tough spot last year as a freshman taking on the role of our starting catcher, in which he had to learn quickly,” Elsenraat said. “Now that this is his second season behind the plate, we are hoping he has more confidence in himself because he has the ability to be a great varsity catcher.”
The lineup is projected to see Smith atop the order, followed by Potter at third base, junior Brock Wendlandt at first base, Cruse at designated hitter, Jenkins at shortstop, Portis in left field, Tyler Owens handling catching duties, Louderbaugh in right field and freshman Eason Skinner at second base.
The roster also includes Derek Smith, an honorable mention all-conference selection last year but is suffering now from torn anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments. He is the team’s lone senior, and one of its captains.
“Even though he is injured and not able to play right away, his leadership and knowledge of the game will help with our younger kids,” Elsenraat said.
Cruse could be a factor at the plate.
“(Cruse) is coming off a very good second half of the season offensively, and I look for him to continue the upward swing,” Elsenraat said. “He was our DH and a four-hole hitter, and mostly likely will stay in those roles.”
Jenkins’ quick hands and athleticism could certainly steady the infield defense. Wendlandt could provide leadership.
“Brock was one of our offensive leaders last season, and defensive leaders as well,” Elsenraat said. “This season that role will increase. He is a great mentor for the whole team and someone the younger guys look up to. He will be a staple in both our offense and defense this season.”
The roster also includes freshman Joseph Horinek and sophomore Damon Sprague.
“Our strength this year is having everyone back from last year’s team,” Elsenraat said. “They know what to expect and they are all hard-working kids that want to get better.”